The Academy Awards are coming up and once again I have not seen any of the nominees! The Oscars are an excuse to throw a party on a Sunday night. Even if you just invited some friend to come over to watch the first 3- minutes (the red carpet) and the last 15 minutes (the only 3 awards anyone really cares about) add a cheese platter and it is a party! If you want something that can be put out and forgotten and of course is delicious…cheese plate to the rescue! Cheese plates are always the perfect entertaining solution.
So my number one tip for the perfect cheese plate…. get to know your local cheesemongers! For me Shawn, the Cheese Troll and his lovely assistant Sarah at Springbank Cheese Company Marda Loop are all I need to put together the perfect cheese tray. I let them know how many people, the theme (me always with a theme), the budget and they make up the perfect platter…they even put it on my own platters!
When we did our engagement party back in the fall, we kept with the “make-your-own” theme (See Blog: Ice-Cream Party). I mentioned the theme to Sarah and she immediately directed me to some locally made honey spreads by Sweets by the Creek. We chose four honeys and four cheeses along with nuts, dried fruit and berries. With all these flavours going on we stuck with simple crackers. People could mix and match to create their own flavour combinations…the Aged Manchego with Cleopatra’s Delight (caramel, yes caramel honey) and an almond…. heaven!!
Ok, so you still want to do-it-yourself, here are some tips:
How much cheese do I need? The answer to of this is of course, “it depends.” It depends on when you are serving and what other food will be served with it. Generally, the rule of thumb is 75g to 125g per person. If the cheese tray is part of a larger cocktail party menu or a starter for a large dinner you will likely be on the lower part of this range. If the cheese is the main event plan on 125g per person. Always round up! Better to have some left-overs to nibble on the next day then to run out!
How many cheeses? If you are like me you may have a hard time narrowing it down, but usually 3 or 4 cheeses is enough unless you have a very large group. Too many cheeses will confuse the palate and if you are sticking with the suggested amount per person you will have small portions and not everyone may get to try each cheese.
When you are selecting your cheese definitely go for a variety of textures… a bloomy rind, a soft, semi-hard and hard aged cheese will provide a good mix. Also think about varying your milks…cow, goat, sheep and mixtures will provide a variety of flavours.
Serve it at room temperature! Simply put, cheese tastes way better at room temperature. The flavours of cheese are fat soluble and more available to our palates at room temperature. The aromas of the cheese are also more volatile at room temperature…better for you to smell the cheese. Finally, the true textures of the cheese are revealed at room temperature.
Take you cheese out about an hour before you are ready to serve. Keep it covered so the exposed edges of the cheese do not dry out and uncover just before serving.
What to serve along side the cheese? Obviously, some bread or crackers is standard, although I am not at all against that straight wedge of cheese! I prefer bread and crackers with a mild flavour so the cheese is the shining star.
Really good cheese stands on it is own, but it can be enhanced and be a bit of a flavour adventure when paired with some accoutrements. Some things to consider are fresh and dried fruit, nuts, chutneys, mustards, honey, cured meats and olives. Just don’t overdo it. Pick a few. Too many choices become overwhelming and some trimmings work better with certain types of cheese…your cheesemonger will be able to help you with this!